Vitamin C is a delicate active ingredient that can be susceptible to oxidizing, becoming inactive when exposed to different elements. There’s conflicting information on how to use vitamin C with topical vitamin A derivatives like retinol or dermatology-grade retinoids.
The truth: You can use vitamin C with retinol and retinoids. Get them as separate products so you can tailor the concentration of each and use them at the right time of day. Although vitamin C can be used day or night, it is ideal for daytime use, while retinol and retinoids should be applied at night.
Why use vitamin C in skincare?
Vitamin C is a superstar antioxidant that protects and restores your skin. It’s the most abundant antioxidant in human skin, but we can’t synthesize it on our own. We need to get it from other sources. By adding Vitamin C to your skincare routine, you can boost your skin’s natural cell-protecting abilities.
Antioxidants are essential for protecting skin from free radicals, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, and air pollution, which lead to premature skin aging.
Sunscreen is important for skin health, but it only does part of the job to protect skin from the effects of sunlight. Vitamin C neutralizes free radicals, which sunscreen can’t do, making the combination an ideal pair to protect skin against photoaging.
Promotes collagen production
As we age and our skin is exposed to everyday pollutants, collagen production in the skin drops, leading to sagging skin, wrinkles, and fine lines. Vitamin C prevents premature skin aging by promoting collagen production. The result is smoother, hydrated-looking skin.
Vitamin C can help with hyperpigmentation by inhibiting the skin’s melanin production. It evens out skin tone, lightens undereye circles, and fades hyperpigmentation from old acne scars.
Can you use vitamin C with retinol or derm-grade retinoids?
According to Dr. Sheila Krishna, it’s totally fine to use vitamin C with over-the-counter retinol products or dermatologist-grade retinoids—which, BTW, is the broader term for vitamin A derivatives, including retinol, tretinoin, and adapalene, just to name a few.
Vitamin C and retinoids are thought to render each other ineffective because of their differing pHs, but that’s not true. This study indicated that a combined retinol + vitamin C treatment is effective at treating photoaging.
Though you can use vitamin C and retinoids together, we recommend getting them separately instead of as a combined product. You can then get the right concentration of each for your skin and adjust as necessary. Plus, the combo can aggravate some skin depending on the formula. But using them at different times of day can prevent that irritation.
How to use vitamin C and retinol or derm-grade retinoids in your skincare routine
Though it’s perfectly fine to use vitamin C and retinol or retinoids in your skincare routine, each is better suited to a different time of day. Vitamin C is best used in the morning, while retinoids are better for your nighttime skincare routine.
Start your day with vitamin C to provide a shield and prevent damage from the sun’s UV rays that you’ll be exposed to during the day. Sun exposure is one element that generates free radicals in the skin, ultimately contributing to skin aging. In fact, it’s estimated that UV rays are responsible for up to 80% of skin damage. Vitamin C neutralizes free radicals from the sun to protect against photoaging.
After your cleanser, apply your vitamin C serum to dry skin, followed by your moisturizer and sunscreen (with a minimum SPF of 30).
Retinoids are better suited to your nighttime routine because they can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays, and sunlight makes them less effective.
That said, if you’re a nighttime-skincare-routine-only kind of person, there’s no harm in using them both together. The vitamin C will still work to nourish your skin after sun exposure.
Those with sensitive skin types could experience side effects like dryness or irritation. If you’re new to vitamin C, choose a vitamin C serum with a low concentration to start. Test for skin sensitivity with your new product on a small patch of skin to see how it reacts before slathering it onto your whole face. A hydrating moisturizer can help reduce dryness.
How to choose the best vitamin C serums
Not all vitamin C serums are created equal. Because vitamin C is so delicate, it’s all the more important to get the right formulation in the right packaging to maintain the stability of the molecule and experience the benefits.
Know what product formula to look for
Derms swear by L-ascorbic acid, which is the chemically active form of vitamin C, meaning your skin can use it right away. L-ascorbic acid is well-researched and potent, so you know it will deliver results.
If you find that vitamin C causes irritation, try a vitamin C derivative such as magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, ethyl ascorbic acid, or ascorbyl glucosamine. Your skin will have to convert it into L-ascorbic acid, so it’s not as potent, but it’s a great option for sensitive skin.
If you’re getting L-ascorbic acid, we recommend choosing a formula with a concentration of 15%. It’s the perfect balance of effective and non-irritating. A formula with a concentration lower than 8% won’t have impact on the skin. A concentration above 20% goes beyond what will be absorbed by your skin and might cause irritation.
Your vitamin C product will be most effective if it contains ferulic acid and vitamin E. These complementing antioxidants make vitamin C more stable and doubles its photoprotective qualities.
Opt for protective packaging
Like all skincare products, vitamin C has a shelf life. Since it’s so delicate, it’s all the more important to get packaging that will make the vitamin C last longer. Heat, light, and air can all cause vitamin C to oxidize and become useless.
Get a serum that comes in an opaque or dark-colored bottle. A dropper bottle will expose the serum to the air every time you use it, so opt for an airless pump bottle if you can.
Once you get your vitamin C serum, be sure to store it in a cool, dark environment. If it turns brown, it has oxidized and it’s time to get a new one.
Pair your vitamin C serum with a derm-grade retinoid
Vitamin C and retinoids are powerful skincare ingredients to fight photoaging, hyperpigmentation, and premature collagen degradation. This effective pair is your base for healthier skin.
Night Shift is a prescription-grade retinoid serum tailored to your skin by a certified provider online. You get the convenience of an online doctor’s consult without the cost of an in-person visit.
Night Shift uses tretinoin (aka retinoic acid), the only FDA-approved retinoid for photoaging. It’s 20x more potent than retinol and has over 50 years of research backing up its safety and efficacy.
To get started, share your skin story with our network of dermatology providers. A provider will determine the right tretinoin concentration to help you reach your skin goals. Your tailored retinoid serum will be delivered by mail.
Sensitive skin or retinoid newbie? Your provider can start you gradually on a lower-strength formula. After your skin gets used to the increased skin cell and collagen production, you’ll step up to the concentration ideal for your skin.
Got questions? Skincare can be confusing, and it’s super personal! What works for one person won’t work for everyone. If you have any questions, feel free to email us at email@example.com.